Ankara suggests ‘Mosul model’ for Raqqa operation
Bülent SARIOĞLU - ANKARA
REUTERS photoTurkey has suggested what it calls a “Mosul model” for the potential Raqqa operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), highlighting that Raqqa is also a predominantly Arab city that must be saved by mostly Arab forces.
“More than 90 percent of the Raqqa population is Arab. If you assign a terror organization with a different ethnic background to save the city, you would cause a big instability. The same was also valid for Mosul,” Defense Minister Fikri Işık told reporters on Feb. 23, apparently referring to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
Işık held an extensive meeting with the United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis last week in Munich as part of a series of discussions with the new U.S. administration for coordinating the future phases of the fight against ISIL. Turkey requests that the U.S. cease its cooperation with the PYD, which it sees as affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“There is ongoing traffic between our military and the U.S. military. These works continue through military-to-military coordination. We have a principled approach for the entire region, not only for Raqqa: You cannot use one terror organization to eliminate another terror organization. I may tell you that they [the U.S.] listen to us more now than they did yesterday on this subject. But we’ll have to see the implementation,” Işık said.
An operation to be carried out for Raqqa with the participation of the PYD will cause unrest among the locals of the city and could therefore help the ISIL gain more support, he added.
“This could drag the region into more instability. The same was valid for Mosul. In Mosul, it is the Iraqi security forces conducting the operation. This was possible thanks to Turkey’s pressure. We are now saying the same thing to the Americans and other partners of the coalition,” Işık said.
The Raqqa operation could be carried out with the participation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which has developed and improved during Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria and particularly the al-Bab operation, he added.
Turkey and Turkey-backed FSA troops managed to clear al-Bab of ISIL elements as of Feb. 24, and both forces control an area of around 2,300 square kilometers, which Ankara has deemed a “terror-free safe zone.”
‘No red lines for Raqqa’
Regarding Turkish troops’ possible involvement in the Raqqa operation, Işık said Turkey’s preference was to deploy a “minimum number of troops,” but will have to assess its active participation in line with the realities of the battlefield.
“We’ll sit down and discuss whether conditions have differed in the field. We will never say: ‘Land forces are our red line,’” he added.
‘Turkey to protect Kurds in Syria’
Işık also stressed that the “safe zone” created in northern Syria cannot be handed over to the PYD, referring to the group’s existence in Manbij.
“It’s clear that Turkey will not accept a safe zone that would provide protection and security to the PYD. Kurds living in this region are our brothers. Their peace, stability and security are our peace, stability and security,” he said, adding that it would be wrong to characterize the PYD “as the representative of all Kurds in Syria.”
“Among those who the PYD has killed in Syria are Kurds,” Işık said.